Summary: We cannot go back in time to change the course of our lives up to this day. But we can go to Jesus to be transformed and to have our future re-directed. Jesus takes what is trash and turns into his precious treasure.
[Sermon preached on 17 June 2018, 4th Sunday after Pentecost / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
Have you ever wanted to go back in time? To go back to a point in time in your life just before something bad happened to you—something that you could have avoided? And you think:
“If I had only thought twice before doing that!”
“If I had only kept my mouth shut!”
“If I had only grasped that opportunity as long as it was there!”
“If I had only exercised some more self-control!”
The other week I met an asylum seeker whose application had been turned down. During his first interview at Immigration he had presented some facts in a way that was not 100% truthful. At that time the whole truth felt too embarrassing to tell the authorities. It was a cultural thing, no evil intentions. Only too late did he realize that he should stick to the truth however awkward it may feel. But because of that white lie he had screwed up his possibilities to get asylum in Finland. And now he was going to be sent back to Iraq where his enemies were already waiting for him.
Can you imagine how much he would like to turn back the clock and have that first interview once again and give the right answers?
Last winter, a man got into a car accident. It was dark and the weather was bad. But he was in a hurry, so he felt he could afford to ignore the speed limit and read a few messages from his smartphone on the side. But just as a big truck was approaching, his tires lost their grip on the road. The car went into a spin and crashed into the truck. The man survived. But in the backseat were his two young kids. They died immediately.
Can you imagine how that man—that father—wakes up in the middle of the night, living through those same moments in his nightmares, and wishing and praying that he could go back in time, and drive that stretch of road again, slowly and carefully? He would do anything imaginable to save the lives of his kids. But it is not possible.
I think of my own life. In the course of almost sixty years, I have done many things, said many things, and made many choices that I have regretted afterwards. Or I think of opportunities that I have missed or left unused—opportunities that will never come back again. And I sometimes think:
“Oh, if I could only go back to that moment in my life and choose differently. I wish I would have used that opportunity when it was offered to me. How much better my life could have been.”
I can play in my mind with the idea of doing everything all over again. But, of course, it is futile because it can never be more than a mental exercise. It is not going to happen. There is no way I can change or undo the past. In real life, there are no “RESET” buttons, no “UNDO” functions. What has happened, has happened. And we better learn to accept our past and our present—however unhappy it makes us, and however we may hate it.
Now Matthew, the tax collector, deeply hated his past and his present. He was very unhappy. He had made some pretty poor choices in life. That is actually quite surprising. Because Matthew was a smart and educated man. He was talented in many ways. He knew the Holy Scriptures. He had all it takes for a success story.
And yet, he made some pretty poor choices. The good thing is that they brought him wealth and influence. He had become a very rich man. But his choices had a long and dark shadow. He had chosen to side with the enemies of his people: with those in power that oppressed his people. And why had he done that? For money and influence.
But he had to pay a very high price. The Jewish community, that he had been born into, had come to hate him. They had rejected and excommunicated him. He was not allowed to enter the synagogue. He was an outcast. Worse than that, for his fellow-Jews he was dead. Even his family did not want to have anything to do with him. By choosing to become a tax collector he had cut off all his ties and burnt all the bridges behind him. So he had no other choice than to join the company of other outcasts: fellow tax collectors, prostitutes, and other people who were labeled “sinners” by the Jewish community.
It seems to me that Matthew must often have harbored that same thought:
“If only I could go back in time and choose differently. If only I could erase part of my past. How much better, how much more joyful and fulfilling my life could be now.”